Nuclear Power and Terrorism

America's self-imposed nuclear threat

A Response to Terror

As US bombs and missiles began to rain on Afghanistan, the certainty of terror retaliation inside the US has turned our 103 nuclear powerplants into potential weapons of apocalyptic destruction, just waiting to be used against us.

One or both planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11 could have easily obliterated the two atomic reactors now operating at Indian Point, about 40 miles up the Hudson River.

Indian Point Unit One was shut long ago by public outcry. But Units 2 and 3 have operated since the 1970s. Reactor containment domes were built to withstand a jetliner crash but today’s jumbo jets are far larger than the planes that were flying in the 1970s.

Had one of those hijacked jets hit one of the operating reactors at Indian Point, the ensuing cloud of radiation would have dwarfed the ones at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

The intense radioactive heat within today’s operating reactors is the hottest anywhere on the planet. Because Indian Point has operated so long, its accumulated radioactive burden far exceeds that of Chernobyl.

The safety systems are extremely complex and virtually indefensible. One or more could be wiped out with a small aircraft, ground-based weapons, truck bombs or even chemical/biological assaults aimed at the work force.

A terrorist assault at Indian Point could yield three infernal fireballs of molten radioactive lava burning through the earth and into the aquifer and the river. Striking water, they would blast gigantic billows of horribly radioactive steam into the atmosphere. Thousands of square miles would be saturated with the most lethal clouds ever created, depositing relentless genetic poisons that would kill forever.

Infants and small children would quickly die en masse. Pregnant women would spontaneously abort or give birth to horribly deformed offspring. Ghastly sores, rashes, ulcerations and burns would afflict the skin of millions. Heart attacks, stroke and multiple organ failure would kill thousands on the spot. Emphysema, hair loss, nausea, inability to eat or drink or swallow, diarrhea and incontinence, sterility and impotence, asthma and blindness would afflict hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Then comes the wave of cancers, leukemias, lymphomas, tumors and hellish diseases for which new names will have to be invented.

Evacuation would be impossible, but thousands would die trying. Attempts to quench the fires would be futile. More than 800,000 Soviet draftees forced through Chernobyl’s seething remains in a futile attempt to clean it up are still dying from their exposure. At Indian Point, the molten cores would burn uncontrolled for days, weeks and years. Who would volunteer for such an American task force?

The immediate damage from an Indian Point attack (or a domestic accident) would render all five boroughs of New York City an apocalyptic wasteland.

As at Three Mile Island, where thousands of farm and wild animals died in heaps, natural ecosystems would be permanently and irrevocably destroyed. Spiritually, psychologically, financially and ecologically, our nation would never recover.

This is what we missed by a mere 40 miles on September 11. Now that we are at war, this is what could be happening as you read this.

There are 103 of these potential Bombs of the Apocalypse operating in the US. They generate a mere 8 percent of our total energy. Since its deregulation crisis, California cut its electric consumption by some 15 percent. Within a year, the US could cheaply replace virtually all the reactors with increased efficiency.

Yet, as the terror escalates, Congress is fast-tracking the extension of the Price-Anderson Act, a form of legal immunity that protects reactor operators from liability in case of a meltdown or terrorist attack.

Do we take this war seriously? Are we committed to the survival of our nation?

If so, the ticking reactor bombs that could obliterate the very core of our life and of all future generations must be shut down.

Harvey Wasserman is author of The Last Energy War and co-author of Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation.

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